Saturday, January 1, 2011

Nomming our way through the holidays

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that you all celebrated in whatever way makes you happiest. For our part, we surrounded ourselves with friends and family, and filled ourselves with delicious food and drink.

I can only hope that 2011 is as filled with deliciousness as these past few weeks have been--just take a look at the tasty things I've been making!

Apparently the holidays mean one thing for me:

Cheese for fondue


The above Gruyere and Vacherin Fribourgeois (say that five times fast!) were the main ingredients for the traditional Swiss fondue we made a few days before Christmas. A couple pounds of cheese, plus garlic, chardonnay, and a little cornstarch (and some Acme bread for dipping) and voila!


I'm pretty sure that fondue is the definition of indulgence, given that you're basically eating melted cheese (not to mention that I spent about $60 on said cheese alone). We followed the fondue with a sing-a-long viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I can't think of a better way to lead into the holiday weekend.

Fondue wasn't the end of my recent cheese indulgences. In the past couple of weeks I've also made two different cheese balls, following Kirsten Jackson's artisan spin on those retro rounds of cheese and nuts you probably remember from Christmas at your grandmother's. No Velveeta to be found here--these cheese balls feature farmhouse cheddar and stinky blue cheeses, along with aromatic herbs.

Blue cheese balsamic onion cheeseball

I found the Blue Cheese Ball with Caramelized Balsamic Onions to be a little heavy on the balsamic, but I wouldn't steer away from trying it again with a few adjustments.

Farmhouse cheddar cheese ball with rosemary, bourbon, and pecans

The Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese Ball with Pecans and Bourbon was a huge hit, both with me and my in-laws for whom I made it. The onions cooked with rosemary are a really nice inclusion.

Okay, okay. After all this cheese we need a change of pace. I took it upon myself to cook Christmas dinner for the in-laws. For the main course, I decided on Mark Bittman's rack of lamb with a pimenton, garlic, and rye bread rub.

Rack of lamb

Note to self: an important family dinner party is not the place to try an exotic new dish. The rack of lamb I was cooking was larger than the one the recipe called for, and I also failed to remove the thick layer of fat from the top of the rack before applying the rub and popping it in the oven; consequently the cooking time was quite a bit longer than anticipated. In the end, we ended up scrapping the rub into the pan, slicing off the fat and cutting apart the chops to help them finish cooking faster. With the support of my mother-in-law, it pulled through and ended up tasting great, but not without a decent amount of stress.

Thankfully, I had picked a standby of ours for the side dish that anyone who reads this blog should recognize: pan fried brussels sprouts with bacon, cannellini beans, and balsamic vinegar.

Brussels sprouts with bacon, beans, and balsamic vinegar

There were no leftovers from my Christmas dinner--success!

My holiday baking season ended, as does any good meal, with dessert. For my contribution to our friends' New Year's Eve party, I chose Smitten Kitchen's crescent cookies with jam and cheese.

Crescent cheese and jam cookies

(You didn't really think I was done with cheese, did you?)

Crescent cheese and jam cookies

Actually, the queso fresco I used in the dough isn't noticeable beyond what I assume is its contribution to the texture ("like a really awesome pie dough," as my friend Jeters nicely put it). I was an instant fan of these cookies (as were many other party guests). With no sugar in the dough, the only sweetness comes from the jam--strawberry and apricot in my case--and a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top. They were a little time consuming to make, but simple enough and totally worth it. I look forward to experimenting with different fillings, both sweet and savory.

I look forward to more kitchen experiments in general in the year to come, and I hope that you'll continue to follow along. Cheers!